[Interview] Carl Strong – Strong Frames
Carl Strong of Strong Frames is a long time frame building veteran based in Bozeman, Montana. His passion for titanium and skill as a builder is very evident in the frames he creates. Carl was gracious enough to spend some time letting me know his thoughts on some important frame building topics. Get to know Carl a little better and check out some of his latest stunning mountain bikes.
How long have you been a frame builder?
Carl: You can probably say I’ve been a Framebuilder a bit longer but I’m in the middle of my 22nd year of business.
What training have you been through to build frames?
Carl: I had no real formal training. Throughout Jr. High and High school I took shop classes and learned all the basic skills. I’ve always been mechanically inclined, so it wasn’t’ much of a stretch when I decided to build my own frame in college. After I’d done a couple I went to UBI and took the TIG seminar from Gary Helfrich to learn bike specific setups and technique. Also, over the years I’ve employed builders from other bike companies and they brought with them a lot of knowledge from their prior employers. And finally, the one thing for which there is no substitute – practice. At this point, I estimate I’ve built around 4000 frames.
Why did you decide to start your own handmade bicycle company?
Carl: I’ve always known I wanted to be self employed and have had several businesses over the years. When I started building frames I found local support so I started selling them. Once I’d sold to all the locals, friends and family I decided to reach out via magazine adds and then the Internet came along and I just kept going.
If you weren’t a frame builder what would you do for an occupation?
Carl: Not sure but my guess is that whatever it was it would involve being in business for myself and craftsmanship.
What inspires your frame designs?
Carl: My customers. All my frames are custom. I put in the knowledge I have, but at the end of the day customer priorities and goals drive my design. That being said, I won’t do something just because the customer wants me to. I know what works and if the customer wants me to do anything that would produce a compromised product we’re not a good fit.
What are some of your founding principles you live by for creating bikes?
Carl: Don’t get caught up in labels for one. They are a nice loose starting point but shouldn’t be seen as a design guideline. We hear a lot about Enduro, Gravel Grinder, etc. At the end of the day you have to identify customer priorities and put them in order from top to bottom. When designing a bike there will be no compromise on top priorities and as you move down the list more compromise and balance will be unavoidable. Once you do your job the bike design presents itself and it is what it is. Call it whatever you want. The key to success is sussing out priorities.
What is your favorite material to work with and what joinery method do you find most enjoyable?
Carl: I specialize in TIG. Earlier in my career I’d build lugged and fillet frames as well but eventually decided to focus on TIG because it allowed me to do a better job and it provided the most flexibility for frame material and tube specs. I hate to pick a favorite but if I could only have one bike it would be Titanium.
What part of the frame building process do you enjoy the most?
Carl: Probably loading the fixture. That’s when all the design work really starts to look like something.
If you could give the next generation of frame builders advice what would that be?
Carl: That’s a tough one. I’ll give the practical business answer which may be boring but here goes. I recommend to future builders that they spend as much time developing their sales and business practices as they do their framebuilding skills. If you are a professional framebuilder you have two jobs and you should be good at both. If you don’t like people, sales or business management, don’t go into business.
What do you feel is most important for clients to understand going into a custom bike frame build?
Carl: They need to have confidence in the builder they choose. Once you pick a builder you have confidence in everything else will take care of itself. If you aren’t confident and you start second guessing the builder it will compromise the whole process and it will be no fun.
What trends in mountain bikes are you seeing right now? Do you agree with them or not?
Carl: I wouldn’t say anything is really jumping out at me. Of course you have Enduro and it’s very popular but as far as the machines are concerned the only real trend I see is more and more carbon at lower and lower price points. I think carbon makes a good light race bike but for customization and durability nothing beats Titanium.
What trail / where do you enjoy riding the most?
Carl: No trail in particular but the type of trails I like most are those used my motos’ as well. I like fast trails with lots of rollers, berms and jumps.
What has been your favorite bike you’ve owned?
Carl: Don’t have one. I’ve owned so many bikes I can’t even remember them all. I really like my new MTB but have’t been able to ride it much yet.
Favorite bike you’ve ever built?
Carl: Don’t have one of those either. There are so many I couldn’t possibly choose.
Who do you admire as a frame builder / who would you want to build you a frame?
Carl: There are a lot of builders I admire. Who I chose would depend on what type of frame I wanted but I don’t always admire builders because of the frames they build. There are a lot of other reasons that to me are more important. Things like personality, humor, integrity, advocacy, vision as well as skills that are important to a builder that don’t relate directly to building like organization, communication, etc.
If you’re a frame builder and would like to do an interview with Old Glory MTB, send me an email.